Duluth East teammates celebrate following a first-period goal against Elk River. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net
Duluth East coach Mike Randolph is no stranger to playoff hockey. Over his decades behind the bench, he’s gotten used to the tighter brand of play that the postseason creates. That experience has rubbed off on his teams over the years, too, as his groups usually play a disciplined, simple brand of playoff puck.
The current edition of the Greyhounds is no deviation from the norm.
During Saturday’s 7AA semifinal against fourth-seeded Elk River, Duluth East recycled an old equation for playoff success – get up early, grind the other team down and lock up the defensive zone.
The formula worked, and Duluth East advanced to the 7AA final on Thursday, March 1, with a 4-2 win at Amsoil Arena.
“It’s a different time of year, it’s playoff hockey and that was playoff hockey,” Randolph said. “Playoff games aren’t easy.”
Certainly not. But when you jump on a team the way Duluth East did on Saturday, it makes things a little less difficult.
Senior Trevor Olson netted the game’s first goal just 26 seconds in, and then Meirs Moore and Ryan Lundgren added tallies in the opening 17 minutes to give the Hounds a 3-1 lead at intermission.
And despite a goal in the middle period by the Elk to cut the Duluth East lead to one, the Hounds didn’t fret. They used their playoff expertise to put the pressure back on Elk River.
“We came out really hard, and that’s something we’ve been struggling with – that first shift,” said senior captain Jake Randolph, who had three assists in the contest. “The second period was a little sloppy, but we came out in the third up by one and just played tight defensively to get the job done.”
What exactly did Duluth East do to close things out? They kept a third man high in the offensive zone, they got pucks deep to force Elk River to carry it 200-feet the other way and they allowed goalie Dylan Parker to see almost every shot thrown at him in the final period.
“I thought we played smart with the puck in the third period, did what we had to do, made it a 200-foot game and didn’t give them a lot,” coach Randolph said. “We have a bunch of guys who were through [playoff hockey] last year, so we know a little bit about going into third periods up by one or down by one.”
Now, with another 7AA section final on the horizon and a fourth-straight trip to the Class 2A tournament on the line, the Hounds know that they won’t have to change much to be successful against Andover.
“We always talk about being mentally strong,” junior blue-liner Meirs Moore said. “If anything is going to kill us, it will be ourselves. We have to practice hard, know the systems and go out and execute. We should be alright if we do that.”
Duluth East's Meirs Moore reacts after scoring in the first period against Elk River on Saturday, Feb. 25. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net
Trevor Olson, Meirs Moore and Ryan Lundgren scored first-period goal, Dylan Parker turned away 24 shots and top-seed Duluth East advanced to the Section 7AA finals with a 4-2 win over No. 4-seed Elk River on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
The Greyhounds came out strong, scoring just 26 seconds after the opening draw. After getting the puck deep in the Elk River zone, Jake Randolph dished the puck to Olson at the left circle. He was stuffed on his first shot, but managed to get a rebound try past Elks goalie Anders Franke to open the scoring.
Then, with 6 minutes gone in the period, Moore took a perfect cross-ice feed from Randolph and sniped the top corner to help the Hounds build a 2-0 lead.
Elk River’s Mitchell Kierstad cut the lead in half just 3 minutes, 47 seconds later when he tipped a shot between Parkers legs.
But Duluth East wasn’t finished in the first, and Lundgren buried to give the Hounds another two-goal lead at the break.
Franke and the Elks settled in during the second period, and they eventually cut the lead back to one when Jared McLaughlin picked off a Parker pass and scored into the open net.
Elk River outshot Duluth East 10-5 in the third, but couldn’t find a way to get past Parker.
Moore added an empty netter to seal the win, sending Duluth East to its fourth consecutive 7AA final.
Moore also had an assist for the Hounds (26-1-0), while Randolph finished with a trio of helpers. Dom Toninato had two assists; Olson and Alex Toscano each had one.
Franke made 28 stops in his final game with Elk River (16-9-2).
Jake Jaremko had the lone assist for the Elks.
Duluth East will play Andover on Thursday, March 1, at Amsoil Arena for a trip to the Class 2A State tournament.
1. Meirs Moore, Duluth East
The junior blue-liner scored twice and helped on another, leading Duluth East with three points in the semifinal win. Moore was his usual self at the point, too, creating offense all night while keeping Elk River chances to a minimum.
2. Trevor Olson, Duluth East
The physical Olson used his size and grit to grind pucks out along the wall, and he was rewarded with a goal and an assist. Olson’s goal just 26 seconds into the contest set the tone for the first period, which helped the Hounds advance to the 7AA finals.
3. Anders Franke, Elk River
After settling in following the first period, Franke was lights-out. He turned away 16 shots in the second and another four in the third, giving his team a chance to tie it late. Franke played his last game with the Elks, completing a spectacular high school career.
Elk River's Mitchell Kierstad skates to the bench following his goal in Saturday's 7AA semifinal against Duluth East. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net